Opens Nationwide on Friday, February 22, 2008
Every generation has a teen-themed movie that attempts to draw an opaque picture of its pubescent mindset, usually with great failure as the parents come off like zombies. In the 1950s, James Dean’s character in “Rebel without a Cause” cast a lasting mold that successfully encapsulated generations of teen angst, a “you’ll never understand me” stance that triggered decades of copycat movies. “Charlie Bartlett,” though, is closely related to 1986’s “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.” The eponymous main character is a sly, cock-sure-of-himself, smooth-talker who glides in and out of situations that would saddle ordinary folk with serious prison time. Bartlett, played by Anton Yelchin (“Alpha Dog”), is the spawn of a wealthy but clueless mother (Hope Davis) and an unseen imprisoned dad. He’s been tossed from countless private schools due to a compulsion to prove his “manhood” via highly illegal ventures blithely brushed off as comedic, “he’s just a teen” bumps in the road of life. Bartlett’s last resort at an education is your typical inner-city public school with every stereotypical student that has ever populated the afore-mentioned movies and plenty more. There is the goof, the bully and his ditzy sidekick, and the pretty girl rebelling against her father’s rule; this time, the father is the school’s principal, a thoroughly emasculated loser played by Robert Downey Jr. Downey tries his best to rescue his role, but the script seriously undermines his effort at every step of Bartlett’s reality-stretching role.
Bartlett, stubbornly dressed in outsider preppy clothes, is at first treated like the proverbial fish out of water; predictably, he gets his ass whipped and is totally shunned. A series of events leads him to become a restroom psychologist, dispensing wisdom and drugs, thanks to another clueless adult, this time his psychiatrist who writes psychotropic prescriptions as if he were getting paid by the word. This makes Bartlett the most popular student in school, where the lines to the boys’ room””consisting of boys and girls””wrap down and around the school’s corridor, all under the principal’s and teachers’ myopic eye. Troubles and misunderstand ings, firings and riots send Bartlett into a spiral. But he gets out of trouble with precious little linear explanation. This is not to say that “Charlie Bartlett” as a whole is a lost cause. The acting is spot-on, especially the bully, but the story line fails to hold a clear chain to a satisfying conclusion. The comedy is sprightly, somewhat predictable, but current. And the film begs for a sequel””perhaps a collegiate “Charlie Bartlett,” where the students””hopefully””riot for more than this film gives them reason.